President Muhammadu Buhari has met with some 22 senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who were reportedly aggrieved over the outcome of the recent party primaries to select flagbearers of the party for the 2023 general elections. Before the meeting, there was a report that the senators were planning to defect from the party.

The chief whip of the senate, Orji Uzor Kalu led his colleagues to the meeting which took place last Tuesday at the State House in Abuja. Interestingly, it would appear that all that the president did was to appeal to the senators to exercise restraint in the interest of the party. Kalu later explained that the meeting was successful and that the issue of defection of the senators had been laid to rest. 

The details of the grievances of the senators other than that they were unhappy with their party primaries were not made known. Also not made public were the exact promises made to them by the president which placated them enough for them to jettison the much publicized plan to quit the party. 

Let no one tell us that such details were purely internal party matters because if they were, we should not have been told in the first instance about the defection plan and why the meeting was arranged to distract the president from his busy governance issues. In any case, did all the 22 senators have exactly the same grievance and why were other senators able to win their own primaries?

Quotes by the media from the president’s prepared speech on the occasion, suggested that what assuaged the feelings of the senators consisted of a) an opportunity to be part of a meeting at the flamboyant council chambers, b) an address by the president himself and c) a group photograph with the president. The ease with which the alleged issue at stake was resolved tended to give the impression that none of the 22 senators had any point.

They only wanted to be returned to the senate on the basis of automatic ticket, without regards for the provisions of the new Electoral Act which had made it hard for them to face stiff competition from their rivals. As transactional politicians, they had looked forward to their continued stay in the senate so as to hold-on to huge material benefits accorded Nigeria’s federal legislators whose individual remuneration surpasses that of the American president.

Indeed, there was nothing the president said that the senators were unaware of. For instance, the president spoke about the importance of a level-playing field, which was no longer an issue for discussion after the primaries. Besides, the senators themselves had made huge efforts to pass a bill that was tilted in their own favour but which fate frustrated.

It is also obvious that senators are too senior within the hierarchy of the party to be brought together for the president to persuade on the importance of the party’s bigger picture. In addition, their national chairman senator Abdullahi Adamu who had earlier met with them had made a similar appeal.  Could it be that they wanted to hear it from the president himself or was it that they had expected some concrete rewards or ‘approvals’ which did not happen?

Analysts who are familiar with the nature of Nigeria’s electoral system know that APC’s transactional senators had nowhere to go, otherwise they would have followed the option of other senators who defected to opposition parties to get tickets to contest the 2023 elections. According to media reports, no less than 13 members of the Senate defected from the APC to various opposition parties.

Among them were: Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central), Ahmad Babba-Kaita (Katsina-North), and Francis Alimikhena (Edo-North) who defected to the PDP while Dauda Jika (Bauchi-Central); Lawal Gumau (Bauchi-South), and Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano-Central) defected to NNPP. The defections surprised no one because the superiority of personal interest over loyalty to a political party by politicians is well known.  How many of the 22 senators started off in the APC?   

It is to be hoped that in an attempt to placate senators who claimed to have dropped their defection plans, the APC would not overheat the polity by displacing those who won their primaries. Already, there has been tension over the Yobe North and Akwa Ibom Northwest senatorial districts where efforts had been made to substitute some candidates.

Not many in the polity have been able to comprehend how aspirants who were part of the presidential primaries held between June 6 and 8, 2022 could also have been part of the senatorial elections held earlier on May 27, 2022. Perhaps APC leaders had imagined that some winners could be persuaded to step down. Unfortunately, the new law does not allow the old order where party supremacy was used to coerce members into submission; now a member must voluntarily withdraw in writing from the process before he or she can be replaced. 

The issue of the moment now is the plan by some losers to blackmail officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the attempt to illegally replace some candidates. Aides and lawyers of the privileged candidates are now busy accusing some electoral officials of partisanship.

In the Akwa Ibom case, it has been argued that the resident electoral commissioner deliberately went to the wrong venue of the repeat primaries. They forgot that he was in that same ‘wrong’ venue with the state commissioner of police. Was the latter also partisan? Again, the nation is yet to know the infraction that necessitated a repeat primary election. I

nstead, great efforts have been made to educate the public on the importance of party supremacy and how primary elections are the internal affairs of a political party. This is simplistic because it forgets that Nigeria’s failed elections in the past were largely caused by poor internal democracy processes which now required INEC to ensure that the conduct of primaries follows extant rules.

There is also the viewpoint that a resident electoral commissioner (REC) is not a member of INEC but just an INEC representative in a state and that only INEC’s determination is valid. We are also told that it is only the judiciary and not INEC that has power to reject a party nomination. 

This is a smart legal argument that has always been used to weaken our societal institutions by those who often claim that when elected to power they would strengthen societal institutions. In other parts of the world, administrative bodies are empowered to act while courts can review how such bodies exercise their powers. 

In Nigeria, politicians prefer to have public agencies that have no powers or discretion but mere on-lookers. Such an approach had in the past over-burdened the judiciary leading to the type of judgement in which a governorship candidate declared by our supreme court as winner of an election had more votes than available voters. How can INEC which monitored primaries accept submissions that are made to her which contradict the results of the primaries she monitored? 

As we prepare for the 2023 general elections it is time to appeal to our politicians that it is not only those that previously won primaries or general elections that would continue to be victorious in fresh political contestations. Whenever a candidate loses an election, he or she should recognize that someone has to be in the opposition for democracy to grow.

It is the role of the opposition to create a shadow cabinet that would keep the government in power in check. The transactional approach of always wanting to be in government can lead to a one-party state which is not different from dictatorship. It is worse when those in power manipulate elections so as to remain in power. INEC, must never allow politicians whose only focus is to remain in power by all means to divide its ranks because such politicians are only political traders and nothing more.  

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